Clustered patterns of species origins of nature-derived drugs and clues for future bioprospecting

Feng Zhu, Chu Qin, Lin Tao, Xin Liu, Zhe Shi, Xiaohua Ma, Jia Jia, Ying Tan, Cheng Cui, Jinshun Lin, Chunyan Tan, Yuyang Jiang*, Yuzong Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

216 Citations (Scopus)


Many drugs are nature derived. Lowdrug productivity has renewed interest in natural products as drug-discovery sources. Naturederived drugs are composed of dozens of molecular scaffolds generated by specific secondary-metabolite gene clusters in selected species. It can be hypothesized that drug-like structures probably are distributed in selective groups of species. We compared the species origins of 939 approved and 369 clinical-trial drugs with those of 119 preclinical drugs and 19,721 bioactive natural products. In contrast to the scattered distribution of bioactive natural products, these drugs are clustered into 144 of the 6,763 known species families in nature, with 80% of the approved drugs and 67% of the clinical-trial drugs concentrated in 17 and 30 drug-prolific families, respectively. Four lines of evidence from historical drug data, 13,548 marine natural products, 767medicinal plants, and19,721 bioactive natural products suggest that drugs are derived mostly from preexisting drugproductive families. Drug-productive clusters expand slowly by conventional technologies. The lack of drugs outside drug-productive families is not necessarily the result of under-exploration or late exploration by conventional technologies. New technologies that explore cryptic gene clusters, pathways, interspecies crosstalk, and high-throughput fermentation enable the discovery of novel natural products. The potential impact of these technologies on drug productivity and on the distribution patterns of drug-productive families is yet to be revealed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12943-12948
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number31
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Biodiversity
  • Drug-prolific species
  • Herb
  • Phylogenetic tree

Cite this